UK renewables target is barrier to decarbonisation

6th May 2011

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  • Renewable ,
  • Mitigation ,
  • EU



The UK's commitment to generate 15% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 is hugely expensive and stops the support of low-carbon innovation, says political think tank Policy Exchange.

After analysing UK and European policy on renewable energy and a number of models of how the UK can achieve 80% decarbonisation by 2050, Policy Exchange concludes in its latest report that the legally-binding 2020 target is neither “necessary nor desirable”.

The paper, 2020 Hindsight, argues the achievement of a specific level of renewable energy in a short-term timescale is forcing the government to spend vast amounts of money on a narrow range of expensive technologies, diverting cash from research and development to find more effective ways of reducing carbon emissions.

Plans to create large offshore wind projects to help meet the 2020 target come under particular scrutiny with the report concluding that meeting targets for carbon emissions reduction using onshore wind or gas to replace coal generation could be “half as expensive as using offshore wind”.

Dedicating funds to research new low-carbon technologies to lower the cost of electricity generated by renewables and help India and China reduce their carbon emissions would be much more effective and cost-efficient in the global approach to tackling climate change, says the report.

“The likelihood of other countries wanting to imitate the UK and European examples will increase if emissions reduction is shown to be achievable at reasonable costs. Conversely, unnecessarily expensive electricity decarbonisation policies would not offer a credible or compelling example to other countries,” it states.

Richard Nourse, joint managing partner of renewable sector investment firm Novusmodus agrees with the principle that the vast amounts of money being dedicated to meet the EU targets could be more effectively spent.

“It’s all very well knowing that something has to be done to cut emissions, however, doing something that’s fashionable but not sensible, is not going to work. There are two legs to the EU targets: renewable generation and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction. When it becomes clear that attempting to meet the generation target is costing a huge amount of money and not achieving a great deal, there will be public backlash and that will be worse then having done nothing at all.

“It is government’s job to deliver decarbonisation at the lowest possible cost and if it takes a bit longer than that shouldn’t be the worry. Unfortunately, the EU generation target is legally binding and without wider agreement from other member states that this approach isn’t sensible, than we must meet it.

“Government should not abandon sensibly priced renewable generation but as the report argues it must focus on delivering low cost GHG emissions reduction and getting our partners to do the same.”

DECC has responded to the report, saying renewables will have an important role to play in the UK’s future energy mix, not only in lowering emissions but also reducing reliance on imports, enhancing energy security.

“We are committed to meeting the renewables target, and doing this in the most cost-effective way possible,” a spokesperson said.

“Offshore wind will be crucial to this, and with our abundant natural resources we are in a unique position to lead the world in this area.

The full report is available for free download from the Policy Exchange website.


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